“Where we place our attention shapes our lives,” Zylowska
“My experience is what I agree to attend to,” William James
“…think on these things.” Phil 4:8
William James was one of the great pioneers of the science of psychology. His statement has proven timeless and powerful the more we understand how the brain works. I love the word “agree.” Agreement implies multiple parties in a decision and this is an appropriate depiction of our self. We are many parts and what those parts agree to attend to becomes our experience. Do I focus on the one person that did not come to my party or the nine that did? Do I pay attention to the compliment I received or the criticism? Do I focus on the smooth sweet taste of the ice cream before me or the rain outside? In my relationships, what I attend to defines how I experience that person and it shapes who that person is to me and what that relationship means in my life.
The secret to gratitude, awe, joy, and peace are found in James’ statement. These experiences are not a function of environment, but of attention.
There is a song by Casting Crowns with this line,“Your world’s not falling apart its falling into place…just be held…” What if you could just believe this? What if you could stop and rest? If you’re like most people the second that you try and rest in these words a part of you screams “What about_______! We have to take care of ________! You can’t rest or _______ will happen!” The irony is that the only people that might need to be concerned about resting are the ones that don’t hear those voices. Pessimism (often termed realism by those in denial) and hypervigilance make it really hard to stop flailing and just float, but peace won’t come when all your boxes are checked and all your problems are solved. Our lives amount to what we turn our attention to or as Philippians puts it, what we “think on.” We can choose to turn our attention to peace and rest. It is our promise- “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28) Now that is a powerful statement.
Take a moment right now to be held. Right this moment, stop, close your eyes and be held. Don’t read any further, just focus on the idea that in spite everything your heart is screaming your life is falling into place and all you need to do is rest. Right in this moment. If worries come in, turn your attention back to His embrace and rest. Don’t argue with the worry, don’t push it away, just turn your attention to the embrace. If you’re still reading…STOP J Let go, close your eyes and take a deep breath.
There are few radical changes. There are few immediate emotional changes. There are not many techniques that quickly give us mastery over our emotions, thoughts, and perceptions. The reality is that we have to slowly work toward these goals…tiny steps over long periods of time. But we can begin choose what we attend to….it will take time and persistence though. I know it sounds simple, but that is often the case with the most powerful truths. But you’ll note in a variety of ways I’ve been writing about this very principle and exercises to help us turn our attention in more helpful directions. Simple doesn’t mean easy but it can be powerful. I spend a lot of time working with my clients on this and I have spent a lot of time working on this personally. Several times while writing this, I’ve stopped and taken my own advice…a deep breath and a reminder that my life is coming together and leaning into an embrace.